Nineteen-year-old Benjamin Janicki, accused of tickling and licking the vaginas of preschool girls at a Park Hill daycare center, was big local news even before the release of his mug shot and announcement of a fourth charge against him.
But now, Janicki has become a symbol of parental fears nationwide thanks to a just-published essay in the New York Times.
"A Shadow of Sex Abuse at Day Care" finds Motherload columnist Lisa Belkin handing over her space to Josh Tyson, who entitles his essay "Unanswered Questions."
Tyson begins by recalling the moment several months ago when he first toured the Children's Center at Park Hill United Methodist Church. To him, "the place felt like some magical orphanage out of a Disney movie" -- so much so that he was "able to overlook the fact that I followed a teacher through a locked door into the center and was able to walk around for several minutes before an administrator approached me."
At the time, Tyson's son, Elias, was attending a daycare at the Jewish Community Center a few miles from the family home. But the Children's Center was closer, and he and his wife heard nothing but positives from the parents whose kids went there -- so they planned to make the switch.
Then, a week before Elias's transition was set to begin, the news broke about Janicki, and conversational threads on a Google Group set up by the center to share information with parents split about who was to blame for what happened. As Tyson writes:
Arguments have been made that it was the lack of supervision that allegedly gave Janicki private access to the kids and that the center needs to remain closed while everything is sorted out. Conversely, some have held that the school has a solid 27-year history and that a supposed poison apple like Janicki could land anywhere (though it's worth noting that Janicki is an alum of the Children's Center).
The situation left the Tysons with three major questions:
"One: Would we be willing to send Elias to a school where something so horrific is said to have happened?
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"Two: Can there be a balance between high-security day care and a more relaxed communal environment?
"Three: What are parents to do in this weird, wicked world?"
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The Tysons ultimately chose to remove Elias from the Children's Center "based on the fact that a month after the allegations surfaced, we still didn't know when the center would reopen." Instead, they hired a nanny with sterling credentials.
That's a viable option for parents in the Park Hill demographic. Still, you can bet that the Tysons, and all the Children's Center parents, will never be able to completely shake their concerns when they leave their kids with child-care workers. And those fears are likely to look a lot like Janicki.